Moroccogate: A Deep Dive Into Alleged Corruption In Morocco’s External Service

Moroccogate: A Deep Dive Into Alleged Corruption In Morocco’s External Service

Morocco has entrusted the management of its network of influence to its external secret service, which has sparked the opening of a debate in the European Parliament on the allegations of corruption and foreign interference by Rabat, even as the institution is preparing to vote for the first time in a quarter of a century on a resolution criticizing the human rights situation in this country.

In autumn 2021, the 90 MEPs who are members of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Development Committees had, as every year, to choose the three candidates selected to obtain the Sakharov Prize for Human Rights, the most prestigious of those awarded by the European institutions. In the first round came ex aequo Jeanine Añez, the former president of Bolivia, candidate presented by the far-right Spanish party Vox on behalf of the Conservatives and Reformists group, and the Saharawi activist Sultana Khaya, sponsored by The Greens and the Left Group. The first of the two women is serving a prison sentence in her country for “terrorism, sedition and conspiracy” following the coup that ended the presidency of Evo Morales in November 2019. The second was, in October 2021, for a year in confinement at her home in Boujador (Western Sahara) and claims to have been raped, along with her sister, by the Moroccan police.

To decide between the two candidates, it was necessary to vote again so that one or the other entered the short list of three selected likely to receive the prize. Tonino Picula, a former Croatian socialist minister, then sent an urgent email to all MPs in his group, asking them to support Jeanine Añez. It was not a personal initiative. He said he had written this email on behalf of Pedro Marqués, a Portuguese MP and vice-president of the socialist group. This, in turn, was probably acting on the instructions of the president of the group, the Spaniard Iratxe García. Añez therefore emerged victorious from this second round of voting.

Socialists Block Human Rights Resolution

This episode illustrates to what extent Morocco has been, for decades, the spoiled child of the European Parliament. Socialists, especially Spanish and French, and a good number of conservatives, have increased their regard for the Alaouite monarchy. While many third countries have been the subject of resolutions harshly criticizing their human rights abuses, Morocco has been spared since 1996. could disturb Morocco a little bit”, regrets Miguel Urban, deputy of the Left Group.

Rabat has only been singled out in very rare cases for its migration policy. It took more than 10,000 irregular Moroccan immigrants, 20% of whom were minors, entering the Spanish city of Ceuta on May 17 and 18, 2021, for the European Parliament to decide to vote, on June 10, 2021, for a resolution calling Morocco to stop putting pressure on Spain. The initiative came not from the Socialists or the Conservatives, but from Jordi Cañas, a Spanish MP for Renew Europe (liberals). She obtained 397 votes for, 85 against and an exceptionally high number of abstentions (196). Among those who abstained and those who opposed it were a number of French deputies.

A Corruption Network

Behind the long list of votes in favor of Morocco’s interests, preventing the discussion of awkward questions in terms of human rights, or on more substantial subjects such as the fishing and association agreements, there was not only the network of corruption that the press calls “Qatargate” whereas, chronologically, it is more of a “Marocgate” than it is. First, there were the widespread ideas among MEPs that the southern neighbor is a partner keen to strengthen its ties with the European Union; that it is in North Africa, and even in the Arab world, the country closest to the West and the one whose values and political system are more like a democracy.

No need therefore, apparently, to set up a network of corruption when the game was practically won in advance. However, this is what the kingdom has been doing for a dozen years according to the leaks on the investigation carried out since July 2022 by the Belgian investigating judge Michel Claise, specializing in financial crime, and published by the press. Belgian and Italian since mid-December. “Morocco was not satisfied with 90%, it wanted 100%”, explain, in identical terms, the Spanish deputies Miguel Urban, from the Left Group, and Ana Miranda, from the Greens.

The gears of Marocgate were born in 2011 when the relationship was forged between the Italian socialist MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri and Abderrahim Atmoun, Moroccan deputy of the Authenticity and Modernity party, founded by the main adviser to King Mohamed VI, and co-president of the Morocco-EU Joint Parliamentary Committee until June 2019. That year he was appointed Moroccan Ambassador to Warsaw.

Wikileaks Revelations

The revelations of what has been called the Moroccan Wikileaks will reveal, at the end of 2014, how much the Moroccan authorities appreciate Panzeri. Hundreds of emails and confidential documents from Moroccan diplomacy and the foreign intelligence service (General Directorate of Documentation Studies) were then broadcast on Twitter by an anonymous profile who called himself Chris Coleman. We now know who was hiding behind this anonymity: the General Directorate of External Security (DGSE). The French secret services thus took revenge for several low blows inflicted on them by their Moroccan colleagues, starting with the disclosure by Le 360, a newspaper close to the palace, of the name of their branch manager in Rabat.

In these Moroccan diplomatic cables, Panzeri is described as “an ally in combating the growing activism of Morocco’s enemies in Europe”. For this, he held key positions in Parliament, such as that of chairman of the delegation for relations with the Maghreb countries and of the human rights sub-committee. According to Judge Claise’s investigation, Panzeri implicated his ex-wife and daughter, but above all Eva Kaili, Socialist Vice-President of the European Parliament, and Francesco Giorgi, who was his parliamentary assistant and who was in a relationship with the Greek MP. . He was the first to admit, during an interrogation in December 2022, that he worked for Morocco. On Tuesday, January 17, he signed a memorandum with the federal prosecutor (under the pentiti law) in which he undertakes to make “substantial, revealing, sincere and complete statements” in the context of the corruption investigation.

Belgian justice has also requested the lifting of the parliamentary immunity of two other socialists, the Belgian Marc Tarabella, and the Italian Andrea Cozzolino. The latter had partially taken over from Panzeri in the two bodies he chaired. He had also been very active, like Eva Kaili, within the parliamentary commission of inquiry into Pegasus and other spyware which closely concerns Morocco. “Kaili sought to slow down the investigation into the Pegasus software,” said Sophie in’t Veld, the Dutch MP who wrote the preliminary report on this computer spy program, in an interview with the newspaper on December 19. Italian Domani.

The “Panzeri team”, which would have other as yet undisclosed members, would have received 50,000 euros for each anti-Morocco amendment torpedoed, according to the Belgian daily De Standaard. The sum seems modest compared to those supposedly paid by Ben Samikh Al-Marri, Minister of State of Qatar, to improve the image of the country which was about to host the FIFA World Cup in Doha. Most of the million and a half euros in cash seized by the Belgian federal police during searches carried out in mid-December would come from the emirate. He apparently used the network formed by Panzeri. It continued to operate after his defeat in the 2019 European elections. To do this, the defeated MP also founded a bogus NGO in Brussels, Fight Impunity.

On the sidelines of the snippets of the investigation published by the press, Vincent Van Quickenborne, the Belgian Minister of Justice, hinted at the involvement of Morocco in this network, on December 14, without however naming him. He alluded to a country seeking to exert its influence on the EU’s fisheries negotiations, and it was with Morocco that the Commission signed its biggest agreement, and on the management of the Muslim faith in Belgium . Moroccan immigrants constitute the largest Muslim community in this country.

Handover to Services

In 2019, Abderrahim Atmoun, the Moroccan politician turned ambassador, took a back seat. The DGED, the Moroccan intelligence service abroad, took over and began to oversee the Panzeri network directly, according to information gathered by the Belgian press. Concretely, it was agent Mohamed Belahrech, alias M 118, who took the reins. Panzeri and Cozzolino are said to have traveled separately to Rabat to meet Yassine Mansouri, the head of the DGED, the only Moroccan secret service that reports directly to the royal palace.

Belahrech was no stranger to the Spanish and French services. His wife, Naima Lamalmi, opened the Aya Travel travel agency in Mataró, near Barcelona, in 2013, according to the daily El Mundo. We see him again afterwards in Paris, in 2015, where he succeeds in being the final recipient of the “S” files, of people on file for terrorism, which pass through the hands of a border police captain stationed at the airport. from Orly, according to the newspaper Liberation.

The intrusion of Moroccan spies into Brussels parliamentary circles quickly attracted the attention of other European services. Vincent Van Quickenborne confirmed that the investigation was initially carried out by the Belgian State Security, the civil intelligence service, with “foreign partners”. Then the file was handed over, on July 12, 2022, to the federal prosecutor’s office. Il Sole 24 Ore, an Italian economic daily, specifies that it is the Italians, the French, the Poles, the Greeks and the Spaniards who have worked tirelessly with the Belgians.

The latter, like the French, have scores to settle with the Moroccans. In 2018 they had already detected another infiltration operation by the DGED in the European Parliament through Kaoutar Fal. It was the French MEP Gilles Pargneaux who opened the doors of the institution to him to organize a conference on the economic development of Western Sahara. She was eventually expelled from Belgium in July this year because she posed a “threat to national security” and collected “intelligence for the benefit of Morocco”, according to the Sûreté statement. In January 2022, there was another expulsion: that of the Moroccan imam Mohamed Toujgani, who preached in Molenbeek (Brussels). He was apparently trying to get his hands on Muslim communities in Belgium on behalf of the DGED.

If the Panzeri network had functioned correctly in the service of Morocco when it was apparently managed by Abderrahim Atmoun, what need to resort four years ago to men in the shadows to pilot it at the risk of stirring up European services? Aboubakr Jamai, director of the international relations program at the American University Institute of Aix-en-Provence, dares to explain: “The secret services are emboldened in Morocco”. “Diplomacy there is carried out by counterintelligence and other internal services. The deep state, the makhzen, is today reduced to its simplest expression: its security expression. And this expression lacks tact when it comes to conducting the kingdom’s foreign policy. Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita has another point of view on the scandal from which Parliament is suffering. His country is undergoing “harassment and multiple media attacks (…) which emanate from people and structures disturbed by this Morocco which is strengthening its leadership”, he affirmed, on January 5 in Rabat, during a conference of press with Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs. He did not hesitate to express his disagreement: “We are concerned by these events reported by the press”. They are disturbing and the charges are serious. The EU position is clear: there can be no impunity for corruption. Zero tolerance.

Borrell’s remarks only anticipated another change in tone, that of the European Parliament. The conference of the presidents of parliamentary groups gave its agreement, on January 12, to the submission to the plenary session of the 19 of a reproachful resolution on the freedom of the press in Morocco and the journalists who are imprisoned there, especially the three most influential , Omar Radi, Souleiman Raissouni and Toufiq Bouachire. It will be the first time in more than a quarter of a century that a critical text on the EU’s first Arab partner that does not concern its migration policy will be voted on in the hemicycle. It was preceded, on Tuesday 17, by another debate, also in plenary session, on “New developments in allegations of corruption and foreign interference, including those concerning Morocco”. The time of impunity seems over for Morocco.

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